When I was about 5 years old, my parents brought our family to hear Richard Wurmbrand speak. Richard Wurmbrand (1909 - 2001) was a Romanian Christian minister of Jewish descent who was imprisoned and tortured for his faith by the Communist government of Romania for fourteen years. For several years of that time he was in solitary confinement in a cell deep underground with no windows or light. Other years he was regularly beaten and tortured, his body carrying the scars of his imprisonment the rest of his life. Once he was freed, he and his wife Sabina (who was also imprisoned for a time), dedicated the rest of their lives to aiding people around the world who are imprisoned for their faith.*
I have a number of memories from that night. It was my first experience of auditorium seating and I went from playing with the ability of the seat to flip down/up to then staying very still so that my tiny body wouldn't get folded into the seat if I moved around too much! Sitting very still, arms wide so that my hands could rest on the armrests to either side of me, I asked my mom question after question as Pastor Wurmbrand walked down the aisle and took his place on the stage. "Why is he only wearing socks, mom?", "Why does he need those men to help him get onto the stage?" She answered me as she was able (because his feet were beaten so badly that he can't wear shoes and needs assistance to walk) and then the rest of the time I sat listening to him speak. I mainly recall the colors, lights, and shapes as he spoke, as well as a sense of wonderment and pain within my heart.
I have read, heard and witnessed thousands of stories from that moment as a young child until now, and each time I feel the steady ache of my heart beating-breaking-wondering-tending-mending over and over and over again.
As I sat down to write this evening, I typed and erased again and again in an attempt to find words for the immensity of heart ache that is a constant part of experience on this earth and which lives daily in my awareness. In an article entitled, "Heartbreak and Hope: Three Questions about Suffering", Parker Palmer writes, "Violence is what happens when we don’t know what else to do with our suffering...."
I feel that statement touch me to my core. Whether that violence turns outwards and harms others or inwards and harms oneself, the suffering is immense.
Palmer's article goes on to speak about the "attentive students of life [who] learn to exercise the heart day in and day out," so that "when larger forms of suffering strike, our hearts can break open rather than apart".**
Perhaps you know at least one person (maybe you are even that person!) who has allowed their suffering to expand their capacity to hold pain as well as joy, and then continued to extend those gifts to others in compassion for and with their suffering. Richard Wurmbrand was an early example of that for me (it took me a few more years, and still continuing, to recognize the many ways my parents live that truth as well).
In my personal life, I make an ongoing commitment to slow down and tend to my own heartache as well as to that of those around me and is what Valarie Kaur calls "the will to wonder." Her experiences of giving birth and being present at tragic sites of bloodshed remind me that it is possible to meet extreme opposition and hate with the degree of care one might offer to a sister, brother, aunt, parent, child, friend.***
As I daily open into wonderment in small ways, I exercise and gently extend my capacity to remain connected to joy and open to others, even when my heart breaks with the pain of suffering, theirs and mine.
This month my Mindful Mondays (and personal) focus has been Love Notes, to and from friends, the earth, intimate others, family, myself......I have been writing-speaking-drawing-dancing-sounding-breathing into the daily aching griefs and joys that move into and through my life, my community and this earth.
Drawing-painting a heart chakra mandala is one way that I gently tend to my heart when it is aching and I don't have a particular "why", just a desire to be with, tend to, listen in and wonder about my capacity for love.
It begins this simply. No grand gesture, just many small, quiet choices.